Finance business partnering has emerged from changes in the business environment where organisations are thinking about their transactional finance activities and considering outsourcing them or moving them to shared service centres. The finance function has therefore needed to look at other ways in which it can add value and the finance business partner has emerged as someone who can bring big changes.
Finance business partners (FBPs) are finance professionals that operate in a more proactive role across the finance function with more emphasis on strategic outcomes than transactional accounting. FBPs extract and correlate financial figures in order to help the business make decisions which are relevant and closely aligned with their strategic outcomes.
Over the last few years more and more organisations have started to consider finance business partnering. Workshops for the major accounting bodies have been increasingly over-subscribed. Large banks like Barclays and HSBC, retailers John Lewis and Argos, some hospital trusts and the multinationals GSK, BP and Unilever are all doing it. So are smaller organisations like Innocent and Mother.
Ideally, an FBP will have as many as possible of the following traits:
A person with excellent financial skills
Well-developed financial skills developed through a professional qualification are vital, as well as the all-round experience that provides the fundamental foundation of the role.
Focuses on value of information
Instead of just churning out the same old accounts pack in a routine and systemized way the information provided by an FBP will be created to influence or support key business decisions. They can correlate information from different sources to influence decisions.
Respected team member
The FBP will have credibility and be respected for the advice and insight they can give the broader business leaders. An FBP will be differentiated from that of a finance transactional role, which works at a more operational level. Their skills will mean they will be less of a controller and more of an influencer of business stakeholders.
Work amongst decision makers
Rather than work in functional isolation on the sidelines, they will work alongside other business stakeholders offering a mix of expertise, advice and support. They will also be prepared to question and challenge areas of the business that they think are dysfunctional or imperfect.
Service delivery mindset
An FBP will have a service mindset – i.e. an outlook that focuses on creating value, internal loyalty and trust – in which strong relationship and collaboration skills will be the norm.
Although still evolving, in essence an FBP is someone who, whilst retaining their functional technical mindset and expertise, will have the ability to think strategically about business needs and also have a good understanding of the strategic relevance of their advice to the business.
Talks the language of business
A FBP does not use complicated financial jargon but helps business leaders understand and translate business opportunities and threats in a succinct and articulate way.
Moving towards an FBP approach usually involves the cost benefits associated with outsourcing or centralising the transactional accounting functions. Research is also very clear that in organisations that embrace the approach there is much greater shareholder value added than in equivalent businesses that do not.
An effective FBP results in other business stakeholders become more trusting of the finance function and therefore more open. Small problems are freely shared, resulting in early solutions for issues that could have escalated if left alone. If a business can encourage more honesty and openness in budgeting, then there will be less padding and subsequent cost benefits, like increased working capital.